How Acupuncture Can Help With Stress
Updated: Aug 13, 2022
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Asian medicine that has been in use for thousands of years. In its traditional form, it is thought that tiny needles inserted into particular points in the body will relieve any blockages that prevent the life-source, or Qi, from flowing throughout the body. Any blockage in the flow of Qi is thought to cause pain, disorders, and illness (both mental and physical).
Western medicine and scientific research are finding increasing evidence that acupuncture does work for many disorders. One area that has been getting more and more attention is the potential role of acupuncture in treating stress and anxiety disorders.
Anxiety disorders affect a large portion of the population, with up to a third of people being affected by an anxiety disorder in their lifetime (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4610617/). Medications that treat anxiety disorders often have side effects that can be quite unpleasant and may be difficult to stop taking because of withdrawal symptoms. Acupuncture in contrast has little-to-no side effects and can be used in conjunction with any other treatments without fear of a negative interaction.
Anxiety disorders can include:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
The physical and mental symptoms that accompany anxiety disorders can be debilitating and can include worrying, irritability, disturbed sleep, sweating, nausea, palpitations, shortness of breath, muscle tension and aches, and trembling. With increased stress, these physical symptoms can result in IBS, migraines, tension headaches, and back pain (https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/1278-anxiety.html).
Can acupuncture help treat anxiety disorders?
There is a growing body of research suggesting that acupuncture can help in the treatment of:
anxiety and depression
specific anxiety (e.g. before an operation)
Acupuncture treatment has been found to reduce the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety associated with these disorders. It can also help to reduce any pain that has resulted from the physical anxiety symptoms.
Acupuncture does not have the unpleasant side effects associated with conventional medication-based treatment for these disorders, but it can be used alongside other treatments as well. There is some evidence that acupuncture can enhance the effectiveness of other anxiety treatments when it is used at the same time (https://www.acupuncture.org.uk/a-to-z-of-conditions/a-to-z-of-conditions/1278-anxiety.html)
How does acupuncture work?
During an acupuncture session, the acupuncturist will insert tiny needles into specific areas of the body and the needles are left in for a period of time. The needles stimulate sensory nerves and cause tiny amounts of injury to the insertion site, which stimulates the nervous system and triggers the body to release neurochemical messenger molecules. These have several effects on the body, including:
acting on areas of the brain that reduce stress and pain
promoting relaxation in the brain
deactivating "worry" areas of the brain
regulation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, and GABA (all of which have effects on anxiety)
stimulating the release of natural opioids
reversing anxiety-related changes in inflammatory cytokines
Modern medicine is finding more and more evidence that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. It works by triggering the release of neurochemicals that have anti-anxiety effects on the brain and body. Acupuncture is virtually side effect free and can also be used alongside other treatments, and may even enhance their effectiveness.